Anyone who says “the customer is always right” has never had a customer. While most customers are respectful of employees, some are very disrespectful. Being obnoxious is not illegal. However, customers who sexually harass a company’s employees are acting illegally — and the employer can be made to pay.
Sexual harassment is defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” Consider these statistics to provide some context into the pervasiveness of this problem:
- The Association of Flight Attendants reports that 68% of flight attendants have experienced sexual harassment by fliers.
- National Public Radio reported that 53% of hotel housekeepers have experienced sexual harassment from guests.
- Harvard Business Review reported that 90% of female (and 70% of male) restaurant servers have experienced sexual harassment, with incidents from customers more than doubling incidents involving managers.
Unfortunately, many companies ignore such harassment as part of a longstanding “the customer is always right” culture. The customer isn’t always right, and employers have to step-up on behalf of their employees. Sexual harassment is never acceptable. Employers need to get their minds around this concept…or they’re going to lose good employees; and write big settlement checks needlessly.
Companies should have zero-tolerance policies related to customer-based harassment (and educate customers about these policies). They should empower employees and managers to confront abusive customers by denying service. Employers should keep accurate records, and create a culture where treating employees with respect is the norm.
If you are sexually harassed by a customer, you should report the incident to your Human Resource Manager. Upon notice, the company must take steps to stop the harassment. If the problem continues, you should contact an employment lawyer to put a stop to it. Alternatively, you can have your lawyer provide the notice to HR. This approach is likely to get your employer’s attention, since an employment lawyer will outline the legal ramifications should the problem continue.